Author: Drake Roberts
Rating: R. When people get emotional, they tend to curse. Oh, and there's talk of eye gouging in this part!
Disclaimer: These characters are mine? No? Oh, well. I don't own them. The minds behind their creation do. I'm very thankful to be able to play with them though. Thanks, Joss!
A/N: Sorry for taking forever. I write slow anyway, and work's been just plain crazy lately. Thank everyone a thousand times over for all the wonderful feedback. I'm touched that you guys enjoy reading this so much. Just a warning though, this chapter's just as angst ridden as the last one. What can I say, the end of the show just gave me a few ideas. This is my attempt to exorcise them. I'll get back to my other stories eventually.
* * * * *
"How did Xander lose his eye?"
Everyone in the room, including Faith cringed at the question and Angel knew more than before the answer to that question wouldn't be pretty. Not that he had expected it to be.
Buffy paled at the question. "Well, there was this fight. . . .and. . . ." Buffy swallowed the bile that rose in her throat at the memory. "The preacher guy, Caleb, the man I was fighting when you came to Sunnydale, that wasn't the first time I fought him. We attacked the vineyard in force once before. Caleb came in and threw all of us around like rag dolls. He killed two of the potentials in less than two minutes. We were totally outmatched, so we started to retreat. Everything was so hectic, I'm not sure what happened."
Buffy paused self consciously. Her previous words left a bitter taste in her mouth. "Xander was fighting across the room; he should have been able to get out. He must have went back for one of the injured potentials."
Kennedy burrowed deeper into Willow's embrace with a shiver.
"Caleb gouged Xander's eye out with his thumb." Buffy shuddered. "The way he screamed. I've never heard anything like it."
Suddenly Buffy could sit still. She stood angrily and began to pace. "The next time I saw Caleb, he rubbed that in my face, told me to bring little Xander over so he could finish the job." Buffy's fists clenched at her sides in impotent fury. "I've never wanted to torture anyone worse in my life. Unfortunately, I only got to kill him once."
Faith watched the Angel Investigations team's reaction to all of this. Fred looked decidedly nauseous, and Gunn, though good at hiding it, wasn't much better. Angel looked. . . .well like Angel. He was a hard guy to read. Wesley had gone pale when Buffy talked about eye gouging, but after some kind of internal debate his look had switched abruptly to thoughtful.
"What is it, Wes?" Faith asked.
"He killed the potentials with ease?" Wesley asked.
Buffy frowned. "Yeah. What's your point?"
"Why didn't he kill Xander? He has no special powers to speak of, unless something has changed since the last time we've been in contact?" Buffy shook her head at the question and Wesley's look of perplexed suspicion increased. "Then why focus on Xander like that?"
Buffy shrugged. "I figured he did it to get to me."
Wesley wordlessly shook his head, dismissing that theory. "Did he say anything before committing the act?"
"I don't know," Buffy answered. "I was too far away to hear anything until he screamed."
"He said something, before."
Everyone turned to Kennedy, who tried her best to look confident even though everyone could see she wanted nothing more than to hide behind Willow until everyone went away. "Caleb grabbed him after Xander pulled me up and pushed me toward the exit,"
"What did he say?" Wesley asked, staring at Kennedy intently.
Kennedy swallowed heavily, before she continued. "You're the one who sees everything, ain't ya. Let's see what we can do about that."
Buffy gasped, Willow's eyes widened, and even Angel looked stunned. On the other side of the room, Dawn looked markedly ill.
"Oh my God," Dawn whispered.
Wesley turned and saw how pale the younger Summers had suddenly become. He started to comment, but stopped when Dawn shook her head almost imperceptively. Then she looked at the doorway, before quickly excusing herself. Wesley quietly thanked Kennedy for her information, then found a reason to leave the room soon after Dawn. He saw her sitting in his office and moved to join her.
"I take it you have something to add?"
Dawn nodded. "Earlier this year, there was a night when for a couple of hours I thought I was a potential. I found out it was bogus, but the next day, Xander and I, we talked about what it was like. You know, to be surrounded by people who were super, while you were just normal. But it's not the conversation we had that matters. It's what I said as he was leaving."
"And what was that?"
"Maybe that's your power, seeing, knowing," Dawn said shakily. She looked up and saw Wesley's growing look of shock. "Yeah, I know. Way creepy, huh?"
Wesley nodded. "Yes, indeed," he answered, slightly unnerved himself. "It makes you wonder if there was some deeper method to this Caleb's madness or if his words were merely a quite large coincidence."
Dawn shivered. "When we talked, after the whole potential fiasco, Xander told me that he sees more than anyone realizes because no one knows that he's watching. And he's right. Buffy's the Slayer, Willow's an uberwitch, and Giles is part of a secret organization that was around for centuries before it finally bit the dust, but Xander's only human. One hundred percent Homo sapiens, and he's done just as much as everyone else. He was born in Sunnydale, raised there by a pair of really shitty parents, and then thrust headfirst into a world of vampires, demons, and hell beasts with absolutely no warning and no powers to fall back on. . . . ."
"A whipping boy, raised by mongrels and set on the sacrificial stone."
Dawn's head whipped around in shock. "Xander!" she cried. "Don't do that! My heart nearly jumped out of my throat."
"How long have you been standing there?" Wesley asked in mild curiosity.
Xander grinned. "Just long enough to hear the president of my fan club shout my praises." He turned to Dawn. "I'm not the only one who faces off against the nasties without the big guns. Dawnie kicks ass and doesn't bother to take names."
He reached over and ruffled the now blushing Dawn's hair affectionately. "Have you guys seen Deadboy?" he asked.
Dawn quirked an eyebrow. "Why? You feel the sudden need for brooding lessons? We'll just read some Sylvia Plaith and listen to Patsy Cline later."
"Nah, nothing like that. Besides, I think Sloping Forehead's more of a Hemmingway 'die in the rain' kind of guy anyway. So, you seen him?"
Wesley studied the young man for a moment, then realized he wasn't going to elaborate any further on his intentions for seeking Angel's company. "He's visiting Wolfram and Hart, most likely. He'll likely be gone until this evening. If it's important, I'm sure someone could drive you there."
"To the evil law firm?" Xander shuddered theatrically. "No thank you. I'll just pester him when he gets back." He spared another small grin in Dawn's direction. "I'm going to check out some of the architecture. See you later." With that, Xander wandered back into the lobby, closing Wesley's office door behind him.
"He's saved every one of us, Wesley, and I sometimes I think I'm the only person who even notices him," Dawn whispered looking toward the closed door.
"He's fought side by side with some of the most powerful people in the world for seven years," Wesley informed the girl, disconcerted by how disillusioned the girl sounded.
"No, you don't understand," Dawn cut him off angrily. "I'm not talking about fighting demons. Don't get me wrong, I'd fight back to back with Xander any day, but that's not the point. Buffy, Willow, Giles, Faith. . . .heck, even Spike there at the end; they fight the good fight. They grab evil by the throat and choke the life out of it."
A small smile came to Dawn's face when she paused in thought. "Xander's different. He fights, and bleeds, but not for the good of the world, or to earn redemption, or even because it's the right thing to do. His motivation's a whole lot simpler. He fights for us. Giles, Willow, and all the Slayers fight to kill the monsters. They are the reason Sunnydale is now a town sized crater. Xander saves people. He's the only reason most of us got out of Sunnydale alive."
Dawn caught sight of Wesley's dumbfounded look, and giggled despite herself. "Oh, come on, Wes! I thought you were smart. You listened while my sister recounted the battle. Do you think she knew enough about the school's layout to place people in the right strategic areas? Would she have taken the time to make sure Willow was in a safe enough location not only to cast her spell, but to have time to recover, and be able to get herself out of the building without having to go through an army of Turok'han? I mean, Willow was one of the big guns, and Buffy only had one potential watching her back."
"It wasn't the most wise decision, tactically speaking," Wesley agreed. "But sometimes things like that can't be helped.
Dawn nodded. "That was what I was told when I asked too, but I wasn't told this by Buffy. Come on, Wesley, think! Who would think far enough ahead to cover the skylights with blankets so we could ambush the ubervamps when we were outnumbered during the fight? Buffy doesn't think that way. She's a Slayer. A girl with an inner berserker doesn't worry about being overpowered."
Dawn saw the realization creep into Wesley's eyes and smiled. "Now who do we know that who would do all those things? Who would know the floor plans of the high school that well? I'll give you a hint. He helped rebuild it."
"Xander," Wesley answered. Even as he said it, he wondered how he could have so thoroughly underestimated the boy. Anyone who survived their entire lives on a Hellmouth was more than they appeared.
Dawn nodded. "Yep, Xander. In the grand scheme of things, the survival of a couple of Slayers, a witch, a middle aged Watcher, and about two dozen teenaged girls probably doesn't mean much, no matter how powerful we are. But I for one am kind of thankful for his priorities."
Wesley's brow furrowed. Seeing the young woman's expression, he did not doubt for a moment that she believed every word of what she'd just said. From what he'd observed briefly of her and the rest of the Sunnydalian refugees, he was inclined to take her at her word. The young girl he remembered from his short stay in Sunnydale had grown into someone wise beyond her years, almost uncannily so. One thing still puzzled him, however.
"What about you, Dawn?"
She looked at the Englishman, puzzled. "What about me?
"What do you fight for?"
The smile that tugged at the young woman's lips had nothing to do with amusement. The strength he'd seen in her eyes bled away, leaving behind a vulnerable young girl. Dawn sighed. "I don't know," she answered sadly.
* * * * *
Lorne was heading toward the room he'd stayed in ever since his club was blown up the last time by. . . .you know, now that he thought about it, he couldn't remember what had caused that last explosion. Something to do with Darla, he thinks. Why couldn't he remember? Slightly disturbed but truthfully too tired to care all that much, he shrugged off the reasons behind his club's demise and concentrated on what had stopped his progress to his bedroom. To his left was the entrance to a ballroom. This particular room was not regularly used by Angel Investigations, primarily because of the south facing floor to ceiling windows that lined the entire far wall. But as Lorne glanced through the doorway, he caught sight of one of their newest arrivals, Xander, if he remembered from Faith correctly, standing motionless in front of one such window, head tilted skyward, remaining eye closed. A tiny smile appeared on his face as he soaked up the sunlight and basked in its warmth. Watching, Lorne was struck by the simple tranquility of the moment.
"Sorry to disappoint, but the buffet is the next floor down."
Well, so much for tranquility, Lorne mused with a snort. "Do I look like a people eater to you, kiddo?"
Xander turned away from the window. "Do you really want me to answer that?" The slight grin that touched the young man's lips softened any malice perceived in the words, however. When Lorne didn't answer his quip, he studied the demon for a few moments, tiny smile still in place but his eye serious. "Nah. You're not even purple."
That statement produced a short bark of laughter from the green skinned demon even as he winced at a acutely painful memory of that particular song screeched at earsplitting volume by a hyperactive Hrotyle a few years back. "Funny."
Xander watched him good naturedly for a few more moments before he seemed to come to a decision. He held out a hand. "I didn't stick around long enough yesterday for introductions. I'm Xander."
Lorne took the proffered hand. "Call me Lorne."
Xander quirked an eyebrow. "Your name's Lorne? Seriously?"
Lorne rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, I'm a walking joke mill. Laugh it up. What are you doing up here anyway? All your pals are downstairs eating us out of house and hotel."
Xander just shrugged before turning back toward the window. "You guys have a great view," he commented at length.
Lorne took the sentence as an invitation and walked over to stand beside the young man in the afternoon sunshine. The kid was right. They were only about four stories up, but the surrounding skyline was low enough that you could see half of downtown Hollywood in the distance. It wasn't the best view in LA, but it was quite nice. "You know, I never noticed," Lorne commented quietly.
Xander's eyes strayed from the window, and Lorne watched curiously as he began to take in the rest of the room. "I bet this place was gorgeous back in its day. I worked construction back in Sunnydale, but I never got to build anything like this. Today most buildings are functional, sterile even. This place was built so people could enjoy it. Just think about what went on in this room on any given night. Hollywood's rich and famous held secret rendezvous' at tables in darkened corners. Groups danced around the floor to the music of one of the city's hottest big bands. Honeymooners stood at these windows and gazed at the city lights."
Xander trailed off into his own thoughts and Lorne let him. He didn't have to hear the young man sing to know he was dealing with something intimately painful. Just as Lorne thought he'd lost his partner in conversation to his memories for good, Xander focused back on the former club owner, with a melancholy sort of smile on his face. "It's small as ballrooms go, but I bet it had real class."
"The acoustics were probably phenomenal," Lorne added wistfully. He had been caught up in Xander's tale despite himself.
"Pieces of people's lives are here. They danced and laughed, maybe they even fell in love. But no matter what happened to them, for a few hours they didn't care about anything outside of this room." Xander sighed as he finished taking in the room. "It's a real shame that Deadboy never tried to fix up this place."
Lorne shrugged. "There's not much reason to now, kiddo. Angel Investigations just inherited Wolfram and Hart, from Corporate Evil, Inc. Why do we need the hotel?"
"Because it's your home!" Xander replied more harshly than he had meant to. He sighed. "I know it's sappy, and I'm definitely not the poster child of familial stability, but you guys are a part of this hotel now. You've built a family here, how can you just pack up and leave all those memories behind?"
"You visited Cordelia today, didn't you?"
Xander met the demons eyes and swallowed hard. "Yeah," he answered tremulously.
He remembered entering that sterile hospital room and being nearly overcome by the profound. . . emptiness. Cordelia had always commanded the attention of the entire room. The still figure resting placidly against the white sheets, though still stunningly beautiful even morbidly pale, barely garnered notice at all. "At least, the part that's there right now."
"Come on, buck up pumpkin," Lorne told him in an effort to lighten Xander's mood. He could tell by the look on the one-eyed man's face that he was failing spectacularly. "As long as she alive there's still hope. Knowing her, she'll wake up one day fresh as a daisy and demanding a pay raise and a pair of Gucci sandals because we let her be seen in something as tacky as a hospital gown."
Xander tried to muster up a smile for the demon that was making such an effort on his part. It didn't work. He'd stood in the doorway of Cordelia's room for God knows how long looking for any sign of the girl he'd known since they were old enough to throw insults at each other. Then he'd walked to her bedside in the hope that a closer inspection might reveal something he'd missed. He wasn't exactly sure what he was looking for as he spoke to her about what it was like to share a one bedroom apartment with over a dozen teenage girls, and have to continually replace the Summers house's windows, but he never got a glimpse of that. . . .something that always told him that his greatest antagonist, and first real girlfriend was near.
Before he left, Xander leaned down and kissed Cordelia goodbye. If he was honest with himself, he knew that excluding Willow, this woman knew him better than anyone else on the planet. There was a time in his life that he'd shared things with her that he hadn't told Anya the entire time they were together, things that he'd never tell Buffy. He'd loved her just as much as he'd loved anyone in his life, and he wished that he'd had the nerve to tell her before now. The others held out in the hope that she'd one day wake up like everything she'd went through was nothing but a year long nightmare. Xander knew better. As soon as his lips touched softly to her forehead, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that what he was looking for, that indefinable spark that made Cordelia Chase the tenacious, passionate, unflinching, force of nature that she'd become, that indomitable spirit that he'd been privileged enough to catch glimpses of in high school, was gone. He just hoped that wherever she'd ended up was better than here, and that maybe one day he would get to see her again.
But he didn't want to dwell on those thoughts right now. He'd mourn later when there one a green skinned demon desperately trying to figure out what he was thinking. "So, Lorne. How the hell did you start helping out His Broodiness?"
Xander was glad he'd asked the question when the lounge singer's morose expression evaporated, replaced with a wide grin that looked much closer to his natural state of being. It was kind of surreal for the carpenter to realize he was happy he'd cheered up a demon.
"Well, my young friend, that's an interesting story. Tell me," Lorne said, throwing an arm over a bemused Xander's shoulders. "Have you ever heard Angelcakes sing?"
* * * * *
TBC. . .
Yeah, I know a kind of weird stopping point, but I want to give you guys something to let you know I'm still alive. Don't worry, more is coming.